Thursday, September 29, 2011

So long Sara, and thanks...

On Monday morning, at 5 AM, Australian fantasy writer Sara Douglass died. I have spent the last couple days, among other things, trying to work out exactly how to respond to this incredibly sad event. I never met Sara, But it's fair to say that of all the Australian writers whose work has had an enormous influence upon my own writing, Sara Douglass would be right up there near the top of the list.

Sara's Crucible Trilogy remain to this day arguably the finest historical fantasy books I have ever read. Reading them – and I can particularly remember this in relation to the first book in that series, The Nameless Day – had a profound effect on the way I think about so many things; History, fantasy, narrative, the entire craft of writing and what I do, really. One of my ambitions ever since reading that particular trilogy has been to write something just a fraction as good, As engaging, as immediate and clever. Here: this is what I'm talking about;
Wynkyn de Worde had undertaken the journey between Rome and Nuremberg over one hundred times in the past fifty or so years, but never had he done so before with such a heavy heart. He had been twenty three in 1296 when the then Pope, the great Boniface VIII, had sent him north for the first time.
Twenty-three, and entrusted with a secret so horrifying, that it, and the nightmarish responsibility it carried with it, would have killed most other men. But Wynkyn was a special man, strong and dedicated, sure of the right of God, and with a faith so unshakeable that Boniface understood why the Angels had selected him as the man fit to oversee the Cleft.
“Reveal the secret to any other man," Boniface had told the young Dominican, “and you can be sure that the angels themselves will ensure your death."
- The Nameless Day, p.3
For me, that short passage (and it's only one of quite literally hundreds I could have chosen from just about any of Sara's books) catches beautifully what Sara did – she knew her characters so well, and her readers, and she had the most deft ability to bring both of them together so quickly, so engagingly, that her writing seemed just effortless.

When the news came through the other morning, and even though it was not unexpected, I still sat, shocked and quiet in my office at work with a sudden, quite profound sense of loss, as though the world was suddenly a much poorer place.

As I say, I never met Sara, and yet like so many other readers around the world hers was a life that did intersect with mine, and I am so much the richer for the experience.

My heart goes out to everyone who knew and cared for Sara Douglass, especially my very good friends Karen and Steve who I know will be feeling this loss with every fibre of their being.

So thank you Sara – for the stories, the characters, for your love of narrative and your profound understanding of human nature, which came through in every word you wrote. Tomorrow afternoon, as requested, I'll definitely raise a glass in your honour.


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